The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Immigrants made May 1st their day

May 8, 2006

Billed originally as a “day without immigrants,” May 1st was marked by a range of actions – from vast demonstrations during work hours to after-work or after-school meetings in parish halls widely scattered across a city. The demonstration through downtown Chicago was massive, lasting hours, as was the one in Los Angeles.

By contrast, Washington D.C., which had been the site of the one big national demonstration on April 10, saw a rally numbering not much more than ten thousand, if that, although more people attended events scattered throughout the city. Something similar happened in New York and other cities, where events marking the day were dispersed. In many cities, like Las Vegas, immigrants were called on to express their sentiments only before or after work.

This dispersal in time and place blunted the really massive outpouring of sentiment on May 1. The real strength of these million and many more people was not felt with nearly all the force it could have been.

It’s certainly not because the immigrants are less determined to gain legalization. But many of the coalitions and people who had called for the earlier demonstrations shifted gears – insisting that to stop work or school on May 1 was counter-productive, and might even lead to firings or legal problems.

This shifting of gears should come as no surprise. From the beginning, the coalitions that have called for the demonstrations looked for support to bosses’ organizations as diverse as the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Restaurant Association, the American Health Care Association, and others. And they have gained part of their money from foundations funded by the bourgeoisie.

Inevitably they will reflect the interests and the aims of the bourgeoisie.

What the bourgeoisie wants today is an “immigration reform” that will make it legal for them to hire immigrants, while not giving real legal rights to the immigrants themselves.

That’s what they will get from the current Senate bill – Hagel-Martinez. It would immediately send several million people back to their home countries. Others, who have been here between two and five years could get a 3-year work permit, but any number of infractions could lead to expulsion. And those who have been here more than five years could become legal residents – but only after working six more years, and then working another five years before gaining the right to apply for citizenship.

Those allowed to stay “legally” would have to pay big fines at different times, high fees, not to mention all back taxes for those times when they could only get work with employers who paid “under the table.” Loss of a job for 60 days could be enough to get someone expelled from the country.

The real meaning of this reform is that immigrants who keep quiet, don’t antagonize the boss and accept low wages can stay. For everyone else, there will be a hundred excuses for declaring them “illegal.”

Up until now, the bosses may have been ready to encourage demonstrations – but only to bring pressure on Congress to pass this bill. Senator John McCain even said it openly to the Washington Post: “Turnouts in the hundreds of thousands – particularly among Hispanics – at recent rallies in Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington helped galvanize support for the bill.”

But the bosses certainly aren’t ready to see those demonstrations go further, to see immigrants demanding and fighting for real legalization.

The bosses and their flunkies don’t have to have the last word in this matter. Even if May 1 was not what it might have been, hopefully there are many immigrants who felt what it could have been – immigrants who understand that in order for them to get the legalization they need, they will have to turn their backs on the bosses and their politicians, depending only on their own strength and forces.